A culturally sensitive, quite grown-up story of love across class and ethnic lines in South America, where such things do not go unnoticed.
Arana moves from the Peruvian rainforest, the setting of her novel Cellophane (2006), to the nation’s capital—more specifically, to the neighborhoods ringed by tall wrought-iron fences and concrete walls with which the elite keep out the poor. One such hermetic estate is the home of the Bluhm family, German in their hearts though “raised entirely in Spanish, on Creole food, in the heart of the Inca continent.” Bluhm père isn’t rich, and there are tuition fees to pay to keep his children at the best schools, but he’s well enough off that, when opportunity knocks, he’s prepared to accept the class burden of setting up a casa chica (love nest), a mistress and possibly a second family on the side. Enter Maria Fernandez, an underage dancer in a tango bar, a chola (half-breed), dark-skinned and, naturally, a temptress. He hunts her; she hunts him. Bluhm falls, of course, though a friend warns him, “Don’t mess with children.” Maria notes their many differences, including this: “You live in San Isidro and have ancestors you’d like to write about. I live in Lurigancho—I have no idea where my ancestors are from.” No matter. Love ensues, and with it disaster that unfolds over a narrative covering more than two decades, during which the members of Bluhm’s circle become no more inclined than before to embrace indigenes. (One had considered inviting Maria to a fundraiser for the homeless, but “the more she thought about it, the less she could recall seeing dark-skinned people at any of those affairs, except, of course, as staff.”) Suffice it to say that things do not end well, and for complex reasons that Arana, herself Peruvian, explores with psychological awareness and sympathy.
Brooding and elegant, much against the grain of lighthearted South American love stories like Mario Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.